The elitist agenda of the “organic food” movement and the alleged toxicity of a popular herbicide.
Posted on January 4th, 2015

By Chandre Dharmawardana.

[ The author and his colleagues, during his days as the Head of the Dept. of Chemistry, Vidyodaya University, developed the fledgling food science diploma” into a well-grounded food technology course, constructed its course content, basic experiments, and hired its young staff in the early 1970s. Today it is a full-fledged university department, where some of the early recruits had reached full-professor level and even retired. ]

In reacting to my recent article entitled The presidential polls – What about agriculture and health?” that appeared in a number of electronic journals, various comments have appeared. As they deserve detailed answers, I take one of the comments for discussion, since it is representative of many who quote the internet without having the time or the desire to dig deeper.

I noted in my article that a very useful herbicide, glyphosate, used safely for many decades in the West, and for five to six years in Sri Lanka, is claimed to cause chronic kidney disease (CKD) in the Lanka’s North Central Province (NCP), even though CKD had existed for at least a decade prior to the arrival of glyphosate in the country. An article of faith of the organic” lobby is the need to ban all artificial” fertilizers and pesticides, and revert to traditional agriculture, even though this may cause untold misery, especially to the poor. They assure us that this misery is short term”.

The Arsenic Mafia

To achieve this end, the proponents of this type of eco-extremism claim that the most commonly used herbicide, glyphosate, is toxic” and that the fertilizers used in the country are laced with arsenic”. This tactic of spreading fear to gain an objective justifies their being called the arsenic mafia”. The mendacity of the arsenic mafia is compounded by the fact that the chemical analysis of the water and the soil in the NCP, where CKD is found, carried out by the WHO has shown that there is no significant arsenic or glyphosate in the NCP water.

Even though glyphosate is NOT present in the disease stricken areas, and even though there is no evidence of toxicity in glyphosate (except at high does that is no different from the toxicity resulting from eating a cake of soap daily), glyphosate has been banned since December 2014 in the NCP, as a precautionary measure” !

The opposition to glyphosate is a political act animated by the organic agriculture lobby”. The fact that glyposate is a Monsanto product” is sufficient reason for some of eco-activists to oppose it.

Internet sources and alleged glyphosate toxicity.

A commentator using the pen name Cerberus” writes:

Glyphosate has been banned in several countries. It is toxic. I found if I eat GMO soy bean products I have digestive problems. Here are some research articles I found by searching on Google using the words toxicity of Glyphosate”.

It may interest Cerberus that most of the lentils (parippu”) available in Sri Lanka come from Saskatchewan, Canada, where glyphosate is used in agriculture. Does he have problems with Canadian parippu”? In fact, a court challenge by an extreme eco-activist group against the use of glyphosate was thrown out by a Canadian court, upholding its use even inside homes, golf clubs, farms etc. (

Even if Cerberus has digestive problems” with soy bean or lentils, the problem is personal to Cerberus unless a double-blind” experiment is run to test the effects of eating soyabean. This has to be done with the soya bean grown with glyphosate as the herbicide and soyabean” (i.e., grown without the herbicide etc., using a significantly large number of people (e.g., 100 people in each group) as test subjects.

What should the public do when experts differ?

How should a member of the public choose among conflicting expert” views and views found on the internet? There are basically two options:

(i) If you are not an expert, follow the mainstream scientific viewpoint which should also be used in making public policy. The mainstream view is given in publications of international bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO), or learned societies like the American Physical society (APS) or the British Royal society. What is not covered in these formal publications may be supplemented with a reading of, e.g., A consumer’s guide to effective environmental Choices, by the Union of concerned scientists, and such publications.

(ii) If you are a scientist with the needed skills and resources, you should test the maverick opinions as the progress of science depends on addressing dissenting views empirically. However, public policy must NOT be based on maverick opinions. A danger here is that maverick opinions and public perceptions may have strong political support, even when they are wrong. Shiva Vandana’s opposition to golden rice”, (a form of rice genetically enriched with Vitamin A), and the opposition to glyphosate are, in our view, examples of such a cases.

The WHO states its position on the toxicity of glyphosate (as well as its primary degradation product known as AMPA) as follows:

Because of their low toxicity, the health-based value derived for AMPA alone or in combination with glyphosate is orders of magnitude higher than concentrations of glyphosate or AMPA normally found in drinking-water. Under usual conditions, therefore, the presence of glyphosate and AMPA in drinking-water does not represent a hazard to human health. For this reason, the establishment of a numerical guideline value for glyphosate and AMPA is not deemed necessary

( ).

Let us look more carefully at the internet sources” given by Cerberus.

The first reference by Cerberus.

This is the” maintained by an organic food” advocacy NGO. They have given a compendium of toxic effects of glyphosate when used at concentrations quite in excess of ordinary use. The WHO guidelines say:

the health-based value derived for AMPA alone or in combination with glyphosate is orders of magnitude higher than concentrations of glyphosate or AMPA normally found in drinking-water.”

An order of magnitude is a factor of ten, while three orders is a factor of 1000. Usually, glyphosate residues found in water or in body fluids of farmers, even immediately after application are 2-3 orders less than values considered critical (e.g., about 700 parts/billion in the US, 150 parts/billion in Canada), even under prolonged exposure (see. Environ. Health Perspect., vol. 112 (3), p321—326, 2004). This can be reduced to truly negligible proportions by wearing gloves and protective equipment, or using mechanized application.

The second reference by Cerberus.

This ( presents details of a UK-parliamentary committee hearing of Dr. Don Huber, a retired Perdue scientist who warns of a new pathogen” that he hopes to link to glyphosate. These parliamentary committees respond to pressure groups politically rather than in an equitable manner. One such parliamentary committee gave hearings to Fr. Emmanuel of the Global Tamil Forum denouncing alleged war crimes against Tamils”, while ignoring the requests of the the Sri Lankan High Commission to hear independent experts.

Although scientists expected Huber to publish his findings proclaimed in 2005, no substantiation is available after a decade. Mainstream scientists like Anastasia Bodnar exposed the holes in Huber’s claims, pointing out that extra-ordinary claims need extra-ordinarily strong evidence ( ). In our view, many individuals use glyphosate bashing”, or GMO-foods bashing”, to cheaply acquire an eco-hero” status, but fail to substantiate their claims scientifically. Unfortunately, the public does not follow the scientific debate to its end, but knows only of the splash in the internet.

Kevin Folta (a scientist who offered to sequence the genome of the glyphosate-linked pathogen claimed by Don Huber) says Huber’s mysterious self-replicating culturable pathogen … remains a mystery to science, but high gospel for (his) credulous true believers”.

The third reference by Cerberus.

This ( ) is an article in the Journal of Food Chemistry which says that the use of glyphosate is safe. Its conclusions are:

(1) although there is conflicting literature on the effects of glyphosate on mineral nutrition on GR crops, most of the literature indicates that mineral nutrition in GR crops is not affected by either the GR trait or by application of glyphosate; (2) most of the available data support the view that neither the GR transgenes nor glyphosate use in GR crops increases crop disease; and (3) yield data on GR crops do not support the hypotheses that there are substantive mineral nutrition or disease problems that are specific to GR crops.

So, glyphosate gets a clean bill”! Perhaps Cerberus did not read it?

The fourth reference by Cerberus.

This ( ) is an article in a Natural-Health” newsletter. This newsletter advertises herbal medicines and makes claims that 80% of people”have a fungus in their brains, and that they have the cleanser” for it. The article refers to Jeff Ritterman, a Vice President of a California based anti-Monsanto NGO. He claims that glyphosate causes epidemics in many countries.

Jeff Ritterman presented his position in his 2013 July article in, (see ) claiming that a California medical doctor and two scientists” from Sri Lanka have proposed (in March 2013) a very ingenious hypothesis” claiming that glyphosate reacts with metal toxins like arsenic to toxify the water table and produce CKD epidemics in Nicaragua, India and Sri lanka, if the water is hard. The ONLY basis of his claim is an article published by Dr. Jayasumana in collaboration with a California-based doctor and a Sri Lankan psychic. They ignore the lack of arsenic or glyphosate in the NCP water. The publication is in a little-known pay-as-you-go” journal maintained by a Chinese businessman. The hypothesis is rejected by main-stream scientists for its incorrect chemistry. Nevertheless, Jeff Ritterman argues in and in other publications that glyphosate should be banned as a precaution, even if it is only a hypothesis!, as a matter of p[policy” does not publish rebuttals or critical reviews of their articles. That is a typical position of many political-advocacy organizations. Nevertheless I published an internet rebuttal that may be read at ).

We see that Cerberus is uncritically re-echoing Jayasumana’s unjustified claims, second or third hand from the internet. Mahesh Ladduwahetty (in an e-mail discussion) also quoted Ritterman’s article as evidence for the toxicity of glyphosate, perhaps unaware that Ritterman’s article rests only on the unsubstantiated claims of a Sri Lankan Psychic, and her colleagues led by Jayasumana and the California doctor.

The fifth reference given by Cerberus.

This ( ) is merely yet another news item referring to the paper by the California-doctor+Jayasumana+Lankan-Psychic. So, repeated references to the same hypothesis do not constitute new evidence in support of the toxicity of glyphosate.

The sixth reference by Cerberus.

The final reference given by Cerberus is to a report (in the new-public-radio” website by Jayson Beaubien entitled Mysterious kidney disease slays farm workers in Central America”. This is simply a news item regarding Nicaraguan sugarcane workers struck down by CKD. The article lists a variety of causes including dehydration, effect of local illicit brews, agricultural chemicals, overuse of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, the effect of hantavirus (spread by rats) etc. The article even concludes that the origin of the kidney disease is still uncertain. Hence Cerberus can not refer to this article as evidence” for the toxicity of glyphosate. Evidence has to be found in research reports.

The cause of kideny disease.

The WHO study, and various others studies showed that the water in the NCP does NOT contain arsenic, cadmium, glyphosate and other substances. So they can NOT be causes of CKD.

Our research on CKD was in collaboration with two former Director Generals of the Department of Agriculture in Sri Lanka, and a founding Director of the Sugar Research Institute of Sri Lanka. We concluded that CKD arises from drinking water that is polluted with various salts that degrade the protein layers in the kidney.

Analytical data for drinking water in many parts of NCP have high electrical conductivities, pointing to unsafe amounts of various salts. Phosphate levels in NCP tanks increase rapidly during the dry season. Various types of ions (i.e., components of salts) like fluoride, phosphate, ammonium, etc., are highly active in denaturing proteins, as first shown by the biochemist Hofmeister. This generalized concept of saltiness” is known as ionicity”. A given water sample may have a high ionicity without actually tasting salty”. Drinking such water continually for many years can have a debilitating effect on the protein layers in the kidney. More details of this explanation of CKD can be found in a report published in a well-known peer-reviewed journal known as Environmental Geochemistry and Health, August 2014 (see ).

Our theory is of little interest to political advocacy groups who look for weapons against Monsanto, and seek unrealistic ecological utopias. They strives to ban all fertilizers and pesticides and revert to traditional agriculture, in sync with the movements in California or Sweden.

Getting rid of CKD involves providing clean drinking water to the NCP, and controlling (not banning) the amounts of agrochemicals used by farmers to ensure that there is no excessive use causing run-off during the rainy season.

Organic agriculture and the afluent consumer.

Organic agriculture”, is usually perceived by many as a return to older methods of farming without using agrochemicals and modern varieties of seeds. For instance, paddy cultivation using traditional seeds (e.g., varieties like heenati”, kulubalawee”, rath-suvandal”) and grown as in the early 20th century, using bone meal, compost and ample water to kill the weeds, will optimally yield about 1.7-1.9 tons/hectare of organic paddy”, after 100-120 days. If pesticides are not used, the yields are even less. Traditional varieties do not respond (i.e., increase the yield) even if fertilized well (be it with organic” or inorganic fertilizers).

In comparison, a popular hybrid variety like BG300 yields about 4 tons/hectare, while it can optimally yield about 6.5 tons/hectare in 90 days, with less demand for water. Given the rice consumption of about 90-100 kg/year per head, there is not enough land, compost and water etc., to feed 20 million using traditional paddy cultivation. The new varieties yield three -four times the traditional varieties in a shorter time at much less cost. It is the un-serenaded discoveries ( ) of the rice-research scientists of Lanka that enable us to feed 20 million people today, instead of the 7 million in 1948.

As many species as possible of traditional seed and plant sources need to be saved to retain a high degree of bio-diversity. However, traditional seeds will not yield the needed harvest with the limited available land and water. But the single-vision activism of eco-feminists like Shiva Vandana and others fail to follow a middle path” in development. They have discarded science and clocked themselves in eco-spritualism”, eco-faniminsm” traditional knowledge” and other agendas and gathered momenta that ignore how the poor eat.

Need for health-based industrial standards instead of a two-tier system.

Only a high-tech version of organic agriculture” that takes the most advance techniques that impacts least on the environment can deliver the needs of the enormous human infestation of the planet earth. Instead, a two-tier system, with organic food” for the rich, and deregulated mass-produced food for the poor, with McDonalds feeding twice the population of Canada everyday, is coming into being. We need an agriculture and food program that obeys health-based industrial standards rather than a de-regulated system run with the profit motive.

The organic foods” movement has morphed into an elitist neo-capitalist program where it provides organic” food for the affluent, while the less affluent buy the cheap processed food of supermarket chains. Even in densely populated, land-hungry nations in Asia, these organic food” movements are gaining ground ignoring the needs of the truly poor, claiming environmental concerns and hiding its class-based agenda.

The world population, 6 billion in 1999 has now become over 7.3 billion, and continues to grow, especially in poorer countries. The poor live on the products of the deregulated farm factories that use large amounts of bioactants (like growth hormones and antibiotics) in producing meat, chicken, and use excess amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. The bioactants get destroyed if cooked properly. But they remain in the environment and affect even the coming of age (puberty) of animals, humans and even whales in the ocean.

Prior to the rise of the free market, Sri Lanka used only a small amount of fertilizers and pesticides as regulated by agricultural authorities. Since 1977, with the advent of the free market, sales are pushed by free-market tactics rather than optimal agricultural practice.

Instead of developing health-based agricultural protocols, political activists, psychics, organic food” enthusiasts and the arsenic mafia” have joined together , to ban outright, the use of fertilizers and pesticides in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Nicaragua.

This tolls the death knell of the plantation sector in Sri Lanka. It will destroy the hopes of self-sufficiency in rice which is the staple food of its people.

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